New judge had role models in her home
January 10, 2019
When Maria Sirivar learnt that she was appointed a provincial judge, her husband was the first to receive the good news call.
Always composed and relaxed, he let her know he wasn’t surprised and that the right decision was made.
“I was the one that was blown away,” Sirivar recounted.
She had every right to.
Just 11 years after acquiring her license to practice, the mother of two was appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice last September.
“This appointment is not about me as an individual, but rather somebody that looks like me,” said Sirivar who presides in Toronto. “I have been approached by strangers offering both congratulations and prayers. While I welcome my new role and am honoured to be in the position, I feel the weight of that responsibility.”
She fell in love with law at a young age.
In Grade Three, Sirivar had a friend whose father was a lawyer.
“I didn’t know if I understood at the time what it meant,” she said. “After he told me what his dad did, I decided that is what I wanted to do. We had a public speaking competition in school and I wrote a speech about my dream to be a lawyer.”
Sirivar and older brother Abbey Sirivar Jr. finished the journey their father didn’t get to complete when he was forced to change careers after fleeing late Ugandan leader Idi Amin’s tyrannical rule in 1977.
In Lesotho where the family spent six years before coming to Canada, the patriarch accepted a United Nations scholarship to study accounting.
“Law is jurisdiction-oriented and he felt he could get a job as an accountant wherever he chose to reside,” said his daughter who was born in Kenya during a brief stop on the way to Lesotho.
Eighteen months older than his sister, Abbey Sirivar Jr., is a partner in McCarthy Tétrault’ s litigation section and co-chair of the firm’s international arbitration group.
The siblings have a close relationship.
“We came up together and basically saw life through the same eyes,” his sister said. “I don’t make a move without consulting him. I may not agree with him, but I have to hear what he has to say. We also think alike.”
Growing up, Sirivar didn’t have to look far for role models.
They were in the family.
“I looked up to my parents and older siblings,” she said. “From my mom and dad, I not only picked up work ethic, but I learnt that you do what you have to do to get it done. As an accountant with a university degree, my father had to go to a pick-up spot to be transported to a work site when we first got here. When he worked at Revenue Canada, he drove a cab to make extra money. That taught me that you are not too good for anything and there is value and humility in any type of work. When I was in high school and I got an idea about misbehaving, I was more concerned about my older siblings finding out. They set a standard for how you carry and conduct yourself and how you treat people.”
Sirivar’s mother completed her Master’s in 2001 and her Ph.D. in social work three years ago while working for the federal government.
The holder of an honours business administration degree from the Richard Ivey School of Business and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Western Ontario, Sirivar graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School and practiced at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin and Adair Morse LLP before founding Sirivar Law in 2012 that specialized in family and employment law.
The experience she gained from the leading Bay St. firms was significant.
“My background was in business and I worked for a brief time as a management consultant before going to law school,” Sirivar, who started the Sanyu Youth Foundation that offered summer camps and helped parents navigate the school system, pointed out. “I always value the notion of mentorship and training and,although I had an entrepreneurial instinct, I wanted to learn and I felt like in an environment like those big firms, I would be exposed to many different things – people and styles – so I could find my way.”
With the judicial appointment, she closed the firm and her two associates took the files they were working on to their new place of employment.
Sirivar, who worked in Parkdale Community Legal Services workers’ rights division when she was a law student, is well prepared for her new assignment.
She represented clients before the Ontario Court of Appeal, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, divisional and small claims courts, the Ontario Labour Relations Board and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. She also represented children in family court proceedings as an agent of the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.
In law school, Sirivar was active in competitive mooting. She took part in the Willem C. Vis international commercial arbitration moot in Austria and the Jessup International Law Moot in Washington D.C.
As a volunteer, she provided pro bono law services to parents with children staying at SickKids Hospital in Toronto and pro bono employment law advice to cancer patients.
Nadia Theodore, Canada’s consul general to the Southeastern United States, hailed her close friend’s appointment.
“I have known Maria for almost 30 years and during that time, I have witnessed first-hand how her passion for community and youth involvement transformed into a love of the law and dedication to serving not only her clients, but giving back to her community,” she said. “From working with Maria as she established and grew Sanyu Youth Foundation to watching her as she developed a practice while staying true and present to her family, she has been a role model, a colleague and a friend. I am so proud to see all of her work and experience culminate in this well-deserved appointment and I know she will be of great service to the Ontario Court of Justice and the communities it serves.”